By ARDEN BASTIA Mike Stenhouse, founder and CEO of the RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity, spoke out against legislation aimed at climate change during the Warwick Rotary Club meeting last Thursday. Stenhouse is adamantly against the Transportation
Mike Stenhouse, founder and CEO of the RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity, spoke out against legislation aimed at climate change during the Warwick Rotary Club meeting last Thursday.
Stenhouse is adamantly against the Transportation Climate Initiative, or TCI, and is opposing it through the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity’s website and social media.
The TCI calls for a proposed emissions fee on gasoline to help battle climate change. Rhode Island joined other New England states in the compact in late December when then-Gov. Gina Raimondo announced the multi-jurisdictional program.
According to the center’s website, the RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity is a free enterprise, nonprofit and nonpartisan public policy research and advocacy organization, “dedicated to providing concerned citizens, the media, and public officials with empirical research data, while also advancing market-based solutions to major public policy issues in the state.”
“I mean, it’s in the name,” Stenhouse said during the meeting. “We firmly believe that the more freedom we’re allowed to make in our own decisions, whether it’s in life or business, the more prosperous we’ll be. We’ll find a way to be on our own without the government’s help.”
Stenhouse is a Cranston native, currently living in Warwick. With an Economics degree from Harvard, Stenhouse was also a two-time all-American baseball player with an 8-year professional career, playing on teams like the Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, and Montreal Expos.
According to a press release from former Gov. Gina Raimondo’s office, proceeds from the TCI program “will allow RI to invest almost $200 million between 2023 and 2032 in modernizing transportation, improving public health, addressing environmental inequities in low-income communities, and protecting residents from the impacts of climate change.”
According to the Freedom and Prosperity website, where Stenhouse has provided an email template for constituents to contact Gov. Dan McKee, the TCI will cost the average family up to $1,200 per year, “with virtually no environmental benefit.”
“Supposedly, it’s going to make electricity more rare and more expensive so that we’re forced these lessons to save the planet. And now they want to do it on gasoline,” he said. “And Gov. Raimondo signed Rhode Island up for this regional compact that would raise gasoline prices on purpose so you would drive less. They ultimately, as they say, they want gasoline to go away. Now, we all want a clean environment, but I don’t think that any of us think gasoline going away is going to somehow enhance the quality of life of most Americans.”
If the TCI is implemented, Stenhouse says it would lead to a significant increase in automobile and diesel gasoline prices, while also systematically limiting regional supplies of vehicle fuel.
Freedom and Prosperity conducted a public poll in January 2020 among 500 Rhode Islanders. The poll determined that seven out of 10 Rhode Islanders opposed the TCI.
Support for TCI fell from 42 percent to 29.6 percent when voters learned of the projected negative economic impacts, and opposition rose from 35.8 percent to 48.6 percent. Forty-eight percent of Rhode Islanders, according to the poll, fear that the TCI will disproportionately affect commuters and low-income families.
“It’s not a sin to drive our cars and trucks!” cries one headline on the center’s website. “Our way of life is under attack!”
“The authoritarian state really thinks they know better and what’s in our best interest. We think we should be free to determine what’s in our own best interests. And they really think they have the right to shove it down our throats,” said Stenhouse.
According to Larry Berman, communications director for the Rhode Island House of Representatives, the TCI is not an issue the General Assembly is currently considering. “When Gov. McKee submitted his budget to the General Assembly in early March, he did not include any language about TCI,” Berman wrote in an email.
In a statement regarding the TCI, McKee said, “Addressing climate change isn’t just about the kind of world we leave to our kids and our grandkids, and it isn’t just about protecting the natural resources of Rhode Island for future generations. It’s also about our local economy. Climate change is a threat to our tourism industry, and the countless small businesses it supports. It is also clear that the renewable energy industry will provide many Rhode Islanders with jobs that will allow them to provide for their families. We must seize the opportunity to foster the industries that will create the jobs that we know will power our state and nation for decades to come. That means we have not just a moral obligation to protect our children and theirs, but also an economic imperative to take action, particularly as the Biden administration rolls out bold environmental policy.”
McKee also said he was “looking forward to being fully briefed” on the TCI, as well as connecting with the other governors involved.
Even though Stenhouse thinks McKee is a “good guy,” he fears the governor is “going to allow and support socialism and the far-left liberal programs in order to try to achieve some votes in the primary next year.”
In a press release issued by the Center for Freedom and Prosperity on Monday, Stenhouse calls on McKee to “take a firm position against the imposition of costly and job-killing new energy mandates, specifically H5445.”
The H5445 bill, or the 2021 Act on Climate, was approved in the House on Tuesday with a 53-22 vote, and strongly supported by the chamber’s Democratic leadership, including Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi.
The Act on Climate stipulates that a climate change coordinating council is to be formed, comprised of officials from state agencies “with responsibility and oversight relating to assessing, integrating, and coordinating climate change efforts,” according to the bill.
The council includes directors from state departments like the Department of Health, Department of Transportation, RIPTA, Department of Environmental Management, and the Coastal Resources Management Council. Other members of the council include representation from the Department of Administration, Emergency Management Agency, Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank, the Division of Planning, Health and Human Resources, and the Office of Energy Resources.
By December 2025 and every five years after, the council must submit to the governor and General Assembly an “updated plan … that includes strategies, programs, and actions to meet economy-wide enforceable targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions” of 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2040, and net-zero emissions by 2050.
According to a press release from the House of Representatives, “the bill is likely the most important environmental legislation to emerge from the General Assembly in the last 25 years, and is critical for addressing climate change and ensuring that state is prepared for an economy that will shifting nationwide and worldwide to adapt to clean technology.”
However, the 2021 Act on Climate isn’t support by everyone.
According to a press release from the Central RI Chamber of Commerce, urging constituents to contact their representatives to vote against the bill, “At this time, the only known technological path to meet the 2040 goal is to require every business and every residence to switch heating systems to a geothermal heat pump or to an electric heat pump for heating purposes, and to require all Rhode Islanders to switch to electric vehicles.”
The press release also mentioned that all electricity generation in the state would have to switch to renewable fuel, like wind and solar, in order to reach the targets. If the emission target is not reached, any person has the right to file a lawsuit and force government action regardless of the cost. Eighty-nine percent of the state’s electricity is currently generated by natural gas, according to the release, and Rhode Island has the fourth-highest electricity rates in the country.
Stenhouse called the 2021 Act on Climate “the worst of many destructive ‘green new deal’ type bills that would prevent Rhode Islanders from making their own energy choices; instead transferring unprecedented power to unelected bureaucrats.” He called for a veto from the governor in order “to live up to his promises to the small business community.”
The release from the Chamber of Commerce estimates that if all businesses and residents switch to electric heat and vehicles by 2030 or 2040, a “deep residential energy retrofit” would cost between $50,000 and $100,000 per unit. No cost analysis was provided for a commercial or industrial facility.
Massachusetts has similar language in law to that proposed by Rhode Island’s Act on Climate. Last month, legislation was introduced in Massachusetts to raise $10 billion to pay for necessary actions to try to meet the mandated greenhouse gas emission targets in their state law. Part of the $10 billion includes $500 million generated from a carbon tax on electricity, transportation, heating and industry. The money would go to construct more renewable energy capacity, local aid for climate-related projects, clean energy workforce training, and direct payments to low-income households.